It is only after we disembark flight BA0706 from Heathrow to Vienna and spot the German language airport signage it actually hits home that I really know precious little about my destination. Normally I would rigorously research my travels but since my partner spent 10 years living here on and off I haven’t lifted an investigative finger. It therefore dawns upon me that
(a) I have never been so ignorant about a travel destination,
(b) I’m very lucky to be getting an insiders guide to the city, and
(c) I better not irritate her because if she dumps me and makes a run for it I’m up the Danube without a paddle.
So what does a tourist do in Vienna? According to google the big draws include…
- The renown artistic works of Gustav Klimt
- Schönbrunn Palace, vast rococo style imperial seat of the even vaster Habsburg empire
- Lipizzaner Spanish Riding School
- Vienna State Opera
- A myriad of museums
- The mighty Danube
…except none of these will feature in the 4 food centric days we will be spending here prior to our journey south west up into the alps – more of this to come. In my first two Viennese blogs I’m going to poke a stick at some of the places we visited and then I want to try to describe the softer side of the city, its people and (inevitably) what they spend their time eating and drinking.
Many visitors never leave the central first district and indeed many locals rarely visit it. This may be a large city (population c.2 million) but the historic Innere Stadt is comfortably sized and rich in attraction. There don’t appear to be any unremarkable buildings here.
Take the palatial university – founded in 1365 it has spawned 15 nobel prize winners and mentored countless luminaries, such as Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler and Pope Pius III. It’s all a far cry from my academic experiences at Sheffield Polytechnic (as was) with its drab 60’s buildings, although I did get to meet alumnus Nick Park whose Wallace & Grommit legacy must surely outscore that of Vienna’s Schrödinger & his cat.
But make no mistake this is tourist territory, as is soon apparent…
The churches are beautiful and yet struggle for attention within the grand architectural landscape that looms over you from every angle. The archetypal six storey apartment buildings that form the basis of residential living appear to have been built with an emphasis on form over function. Intricate stonework and ceilings high enough to bear chandeliers yet devoid of central heating or electric lifts.
Not far away we come across the imperial greenhouse which, being of Habsburg origins, is predictably magnificent. Today the gardens have gone but there is a butterfly house and a rather lovely café.
Meanwhile there’s a festival on outside the town hall to mark the 40th anniversary of the Styria region.
The folk band were enjoyably ridiculous although this gentleman seemed to be taking them seriously.
To the outsider it just looks like an excuse to drink beer and eat wurst. Nothing wrong with that of course.
The Wienfluß flows beneath central Vienna except you wouldn’t know it. The Naschmarkt (translation “nibble market”) is a mile long local market that has been open for business for 300 years and it sits atop the river concealing it from view.
Today it caters for locals and tourists. A large section is dedicated to food stalls and regional produce features strongly, including massive asparagus heads, wild garlic and globe artichokes. One regular here is the farmer selling his home made sauerkraut from wooden barrels.
About one third of the site is occupied by a Turkish market selling bric-a-brac (translation “junk”) as opposed to food.
This is more than a market however as there’s something of a café scene emerging which attracts locals at the weekend. We grab Saturday morning breakfast at the Naschmarkt Deli which features a DJ inside. Fortunately there’s heating and relative tranquillity outside.
Formerly a branch of the Danube prior to an acrimonious split the “Donaukanal” borders the first district and isolates the 2nd and 20th districts into an inner-city island. To call it beautiful would be an exaggeration but it’s a popular highway for joggers and cyclists, plus there’s a kiosk where you can buy tins of horse meat.
Less controversially it is the setting for an innocuous looking music club called Jazzland that has played host to many greats, including the late great Joe Zawinul of Weather Report fame. What do you mean who?! Oh do get with it…
This modern concrete eyesore may be kinder on the ears than the eyes but mere yards away stands Vienna’s oldest church. St Ruperts is certainly over 800 and possibly over 1200 years old. Either way it looks ancient and refreshingly modest in scale and finish when compared to its Viennese peers.
Once inside you feel transported back to the middle ages. It’s totally silent and to call the interior sparse would be an understatement. It all serves to amplify the powerful stained glass windows. Apparently the oldest glass windows in St Ruperts date back to the 14th century. No ball games then.
And here endeth today’s sermon. I have no idea if there’s any moral to the story. In my next blog I’ll be finding out how people live and die in Vienna. ‘Wiederschauen!